Not every game is going to be a smash hit, and particularly when being compared to a series like God of War or Darksiders some games are going to look worse than usual. But Blades of Time is a game that really should have measured up in many respects. A spiritual sequel to the mostly passed-over X-Blades, Blades of Time places the heroine, Ayumi, in a series of colorful worlds on the quest for a fabled treasure. And though the game looks gorgeous, practically everything else, from the combat engine to the poorly-constructed dialog and plot, falls on its face so frequently that the game loses all its appeal.
The game starts with a cinematic of Ayumi rushing into a crowded gathering of mercenaries with her sidekick, Zero, as the two of them fight their way through to gain access to a mystical orb that will transport them to Dragonland. Sign number one that the game wasn’t thought out well enough: You’re in “Dragonland.” Though this should likely create images of toothless-amusement park workers and rickety mini-coasters, Dragonland is actually the home of many semi-dangerous beasts and two rival forces: the SkyGods and Chaos. The SkyGods, the forces of order on the planet, have battled against Chaos for some time, and Ayumi’s quest for loot plunges her right in the middle of the turf war. Yes, this could have turned out to be an interesting story…perhaps if Ayumi’s character felt like it had depth, or if the progression of the story felt like it had some sort of order, or if the any of the characters introduced ever felt like they really mattered then this could have worked out well. But each piece of the story feels tacked on, simply an excuse to create the next level, and the voice acting and dialog is so horrendous that you almost want to turn the voices off and pretend there’s no story at all. But if you strip away the extraneous “story” from the game and are left with the barebones, third-person action fighter, could you be satisfied? Almost.
“Almost” is the word of the day for Blades of Time. The combat is almost fun, the level design is almost intuitive, the skill progression is almost well-crafted, the time rewind concept is almost functional, the enemy design is almost imaginative…the list goes on, and yet somehow you always end up let down. Combat is simple, a two-button system with hack-and-slash sword attacks mapped to one button while guard-breaking kicks are set on the other. In lieu of a block button, this game allows you to speed dash through enemies, warping in and out of harm’s way as you fight. An almost unnaturally tall jump is available as well with a supplemental double-jump, but if you plan on using this to escape combat you’ll have to be ready for the large landing pause that comes afterwards, leaving you vulnerable to enemy attack. The large pause makes jumping in any situation feel awkward and gives a cumbersome feeling to travel in general, but it’s in combat that the pause really sticks out. This turns out to be just the beginning of Blades’ design issues, though.
Blades of Time revolves around the idea that, well, Ayumi can manipulate time. Multiple times throughout the game you’ll have to utilize her rewind time ability, allowing her to cause everything around her to flow in reverse while she stays stationary. This movement creates a time clone, a shadow of Ayumi that will act alongside her and do exactly whatever happened prior to rewinding time…or, that’s what’s supposed to happen. Unfortunately, the rewind time ability is so unreliable that I found myself trying to not use it at all just so it wouldn’t add to my frustration. Occasionally I’d have three or four time clones going, and I would rewind time again just to find that they’d all vanished. The time clones also don’t ALWAYS do what you did before you rewound time; if a monster that clone fought changes direction or somesuch the clone will adapt, but not in any way that’s predictable or reliable.
Most frustrating of all, randomly the time rewind meter would completely deplete itself, leaving me in a situation where I was both screwed and confused for a seemingly absurd reason. This happened the most when trying to fight the Chaos Shadow, the most frustrating enemy in the whole damned game. It’s “invincible,” and the game tries to force Ayumi to flee from the creature by rewinding time and making the Shadow follow a time clone…I just never reliably got it to happen. Instead, I would rewind time and all my time rewind juice would disappear, the Shadow would come grab me and kill me in a couple hits. These were, by far, the worst sections of the game and were the parts that made me come closest to ragequitting. Still, there are many different environments to explore, and not all of them make you want to tear your own lower intestine out.
Ayumi travels through ten chapters worth of enemies and worlds to find the treasure…or Zero…or the Chaos leader…or something. Each chapter places her in a different world, some of which are genuinely beautiful. As pointed out before, the graphics are definitely the high point of the game…there are hulking temples with insta-death lasers, lush forests and barren deserts far off in space. Some of these worlds try to implement gameplay changes, such as the aforementioned barren space-desert, the SkyGod planet. The sun on the SkyGod planet is harsh and will do tremendous damage to Ayumi unless she stays in the shade, and this is an almost-welcome (there’s that word again) change of pace, except that there are many times you think you’re standing in the shadow, only to find out that the camera angle didn’t show exactly where the shade lies, or perhaps you decide to jump only to find out that you’ve jumped much too high to stay in the shade, doing massive damage to yourself on the way down. Stumbling upon one of these unfortunate situations while in combat with 5 or 6 sandworms which jump out of the ground to attack you can be…well, a bit frustrating to say the least. Other levels suffer from being wholly unremarkable, like the “Brutal Lands” or “Brutal Town” which take place so late in the game that you just want the levels to end so you can be done with the game. One would hope that progressing through the game would allow you to access more powers and weapons, increasing the draw to play, but alas, this system doesn’t work out as well as it should either.
Ayumi encounters altars along the way where a named-but-irrelevant force provides her with new moves based on the amount of Chi she’s built up. Chi is acquired by defeating monsters, but other than seeing the yellow orbs streak their way into Ayumi, there’s no way of knowing that you’ve acquired Chi, how much you’ve acquired, or how much you’ll need at the next altar to unlock a new skill. In fact, each time you reach an altar, you seem to be randomly awarded anywhere from 1-3 new skills, moves which range from creating large freezing blasts to adding a fire trail to your dash, allowing you to damage enemies while dashing. On a positive note, there’s a large variety of skills to be gained through the course of the game, over 40 in all, and the moves don’t feel redundant. Using the new moves is usually relatively simple, and the later moves prove to be very effective. Ayumi can also obtain new weapons, accessories, and armor throughout the game by finding hidden chests, with each weapon augmenting a particular skill or movement. Though there are plenty of hidden chests to find throughout the game, I never felt like a new weapon or accessory affected my gameplay enough to make me really scour the area for new items. If you were inspired to go through a second playthrough though, the achievements lead me to believe that you’ll obtain different items, possibly from different locations, seeing as there’s an achievement for getting all the chests on normal, and another one for getting them all on hard. This could prove to be an interesting quest if you’re really into the game, but odds are you won’t feel the drive to take the title to full completion.
Though there are a few positives in Blades of Time, the negatives outweigh them to the point that the title doesn’t feel worth the trouble most of the time. It can be satisfying to take down large enemies with a time rewind clone combo, having one clone lower the enemy’s defenses while you jump up for the kill, and there are times that the combat feels very fluid and natural. Also, the multiplayer mode, though it feels completely tacked on, can still mean a lot of fun as you and a partner with steadily increasing powers take on hordes of baddies in either a versus or co-op mode. Any of the items you’ve unlocked in the single-player is open for use in multiplayer, which is a nice touch. Then again, there are times where the frame rate (especially in the single-player) nosedives into single-digit territory and you feel like you’re watching a slowly-turned flipbook of monsters ravaging your overwhelmed body. Does Blades of Time make a decent attempt at turning Ayumi’s chronicles into a feasible franchise? Yes. But you’d better believe that if I could rewind time and have a clone of myself play through the game while I took on a different title, I’d do that in a heartbeat.